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Seda may soon be on his way to Ashland

For the Tidings

Pete Seda appeared close Friday to living next week in Ashland under federal supervision while he awaits his April trial on money-laundering and tax charges from his defunct Islamic charity that the government has tied to international terrorism.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Hogan filed court orders late Friday paving the way for Seda's release from the Lane County Jail under a laundry list of conditions. But by the end of the court's day, the final release order had yet to be signed, so it was unclear when the 49-year-old former Ashland peace activist would shed his clothes labeled inmate No. 2017292 and step out of the Lane County Jail.

But one thing made clear in court filings Friday was that Seda initially would live in friend Paul Copeland's Ashland home that already has been visited and approved by U.S. Pretrial Services, the arm of the federal court that handles detention and release of federal defendants.

Copeland agreed to serve as Seda's court-appointed, third-party custodian, making sure Seda follows the conditions of his release and makes all required court appearances in Eugene.

Larry Matasar, Seda's attorney, said that approval Friday afternoon left him optimistic that Hogan ultimately will order Seda released. But Matasar said he was disappointed that it appeared any release might not occur until Tuesday because the federal courts were scheduled to be closed Saturday through Monday, when Veterans Day is observed.

"On the one hand, the judge wouldn't be asking for a third-party custodian if he wasn't going to release him," Matasar said. "On the other hand, Pretrial Services has had this information for weeks."

In an interview, Copeland said he doubted there will be any public welcoming for Seda, who hasn't stepped foot in Ashland since leaving in 2003 amid a federal investigation of his Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation charity that led to the criminal case.

"There will be lots of people in Ashland who are pleased and they'll want to greet him when he comes back to Ashland," Copeland said. "My guess is there won't be anything public. That's his call, and his lawyers' call."

Copeland said working arrangements were not immediately settled Friday for Seda, an arborist by trade.

"It's likely he'll be keeping a low profile in preparation for his court date in April," Copeland said.

Seda has been jailed since he surrendered Aug. 15 in Portland after 2 1/2 years as an international fugitive indicted on money-laundering and tax-cheat charges stemming from the alleged smuggling in 2000 of $150,000 from Oregon to Saudi Arabia to help Muslim refugees in Chechnya later labeled as terrorists.

The chapter and its other officer, a Saudi Arabian national named Soliman Al-Buthi, who is a codefendant in the case, have both been labeled as supporters of terrorism by the U.S. government. Seda has sidestepped that designation.

Lawyers for Seda and the defunct chapter are fighting the terrorism designations in separate court cases.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Cardani in Eugene declined comment Friday on Seda's pending release.

Friday's filings mark the latest twists in nearly three months of haggling in federal court over whether Seda represents a flight risk or a danger to the community while awaiting trial. They have included six hearings before two different federal judges and swirled around everything from extra Seda passports, frozen trust accounts involving unidentified attorneys and even Osama bin Laden.

Cardani repeatedly cast Seda as a flight risk whose discrepancies in ages on various passports and unclear information about his 4&



191;1"" 2 years in the Middle East leave Seda a potentially nefarious defendant ready to go back on the lam.

Seda left the United States in 2003 amid the federal investigation that led to the 2005 indictment. For 2 1/2 years, Seda was an international fugitive, hiding in countries like Iran and Syria where the United States has no extradition agreements.

Seda told the court that he worked a few odd jobs and lived off the proceeds from the 2001 sale of his Ashland home, but federal agents allegedly found gaps and holes in Seda's story.

Matasar had countered that Seda's voluntary return and surrender were proof enough that Seda intends to meet his court obligations.

Cardani said in court that he did not believe Seda was necessarily a physical threat to people in Southern Oregon. But the extreme Islamic views of holy war carried in texts distributed by Seda's Al-Haramain chapter starting in the late 1990s could incite violence to Westerners if he continued to work in that arena while released.

Hogan said last month that he wants to know more about where Seda lived and how he financed his time abroad before deciding whether he should be released.

That information, funneled from investigators through the federal court's Pretrial Services office, has been sealed and kept from Cardani.

Tom Nelson, a Portland-area attorney representing Al-Buthi, said Friday that fear of Islamic extremism has tainted Seda's case.

"He's been hanging out in jail three months now," Nelson said. "If this guy were anything but a Muslim, he'd be treated differently, in my opinion."

Reach reporter at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.